Success is rarely gained from solitary efforts. Most people you could deem ‘successful’ have gotten where they are because of a variety of factors aside from good old fashioned hard work. Whether it be a mentor, the encouragement of loved ones, or a game-changing course or workshop; an individual’s success is usually also the result of these factors and their influence. This perfect synthesis allows someone the ability to rise to the occasion when the opportunities present themselves.
When I first started working in colored pencil as my primary medium back in 2015, I couldn’t have predicted the journey it would lead me on up until this point. What started as a rebirth of my love for drawing and illustration post college and starting my graphic design career; lead to writing for internationally read COLORED PENCIL Magazine for almost four years, artist features, interviews, awards for my work in competition settings and most recently the announcement that I will be officially joining the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast as the official co-host.
I am no stranger to working hard. Lazily expecting things to be handed to you “just because” would never have been accepted in my family. Growing up the daughter of two immigrant parents, they certainly were not getting anything handed to them. My example growing up was one of being a good person, working hard, and keeping your integrity. My sister alone has been great about keeping that in-check for me.
While I’m not claiming to be some sort of celebrity by any means, I have enjoyed opportunities that I know aren’t common to every artist. Was it luck? I guess it depends on your definition. The traditional definition of luck implies that something fortunate happened to you by chance. Almost as if you were plucked from obscurity and given something. That’s not how things work in the art world and business. No one is going to ask you to be on the cover of magazine if you haven’t put in the work to show that you’re worth being there. At least not the ones I have seen.
Working hard to me, is about creating your own luck. It’s true that your work as an artist has to be of a certain level to even be considered for certain opportunities, but I also believe how professionally you interact with others is just as important. People want to work with others who are easy and good to work with. It’s that simple. Responding to emails in a timely manner, meeting your timelines and thinking about ways you can over-deliver, even if just a little bit, are all things people remember about working with you.
You can have all the talent in the world, but if you are a jerk or difficult to work with, that will limit who will want to work with you eventually. Burning bridges is definitely something you want to avoid at all costs. At times it might be inevitable, but you are always in 100% control of how you choose to respond to something. The high road may not always seem like the way you want to go, but it’s almost always the way that you should.
The things that I count as successes in my career are not only a result of hours of practice, research, and hard work but the encouragement of people like my sister and the advice and mentorship of my college instructors. More recently, people like Sally Robertson the Editor-in-Chief from COLORED PENCIL Magazine and my good friend and fellow artist John Middick of Sharpened Artist have been mentors and partners in some of the milestones I have been able to achieve.
I am very grateful to them both for their roles in allowing me a voice in their platforms. I try to take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank them when I can because it seems at times that there is this stigma that your success is somehow less valued if someone else helped you get to where you are. Worse still that your talent is somehow diminished because you had an instructor help you fine tune your abilities. That needs to change. Success and good ideas can come from collaboration and coaching and there’s no shame in that.
I believe that gratitude and being thankful, are not only good for your well-being but to be perfectly honest, it’s good karma. Most people choosing to be of service in some way are genuinely not in it for the thank-you’s. That said, I know how good it has felt to be on the receiving end of someone’s genuine gratitude, and to me that is a feeling worth sharing. People that have helped you will remember that you were grateful to them and what they provided. The likelihood of them continuing to help you in the future is greater because of this. It’s not that you need to create a laundry list of thank-you’s worthy of getting your speech cut-off at the Academy Awards for every thing that you do. Acknowledging the appropriate people at key moments however, is a classy and humble move.
A final thought that I want to share with you as that jealousy is an inevitable aspect of achieving any sort of success. Probably one of the most complex and unpleasant of human emotions, it’s something that all of us have encountered at one point or another. The thing about jealously is that it is always has to do with something about the person who is experiencing it, not you. You cannot control other people, only yourself and how you choose to react to the experiences you have. Letting the hurtful words or actions of others diminish your achievements, only gives power to the insecurities fuelling their behaviour.
Take time to figure out what your definition of success is and aim for it, but don’t forget to celebrate the little wins along the way. Success for you could be as small as finishing your first full piece or as large as being able to quit your day job and make a 6 figure income with your artwork. Everything in between is okay too. YOU get to decide was success is for you!